I'll go out on a limb here and guess that most people who lift weights hate doing cardio.
Call it "energy systems work" or "GPP" all you want, it won't change the fact that you probably hate every damn second of it. This is why so many trainees who plan to squeeze in a few minutes after their workout, always conveniently seem to run out of time.
I'm sure there are a few of you out there who love energy systems work, and are writing me hate mail right now, but trust me, you're in the minority. While I admit that cardio feels pretty good when you're done, most of those in the iron game agree that actually doing cardio downright sucks.
Unfortunately, if you want to be leaner, stronger, or faster, you're going to have to bite the bullet at some point. When you do, here are seven cardio variations that are guaranteed not to bore the holy hell out of you, that will add some variety to your routine, and hopefully make your energy systems work a little more bearable.
Drill #1: Track Intervals
This is pretty straightforward, and is great for those who are trying to lose fat in a hurry. Find a standard 400-meter track at your local high school, and walk one lap to get your body warmed up.
Once you reach the straightaway, just hammer it with everything you've got for the next 100 meters. When you reach the turn, you can put on the brakes and walk the rest of the way around the track. Repeat for a total of 5 sprints, vomit, then go home.
Drill #2: Jumping Rope
I like jumping rope because it's inexpensive and it's totally portable. That means there's absolutely no excuse for not getting it done, even when you're traveling.
A word of warning: if you haven't jumped rope since grade school, when you were trying to show off for your sister's friends, then you're in for a big surprise. It's hard work.
Try jumping for thirty seconds, and resting for one minute. Keep the rest intervals tight, and repeat ten times, if you can. I guarantee that this will thoroughly kick your ass.
If you find this is getting easy, try and copy some of Buddy Lee's moves. If you still don't think that jumping rope can be completely badass, I have nothing to say to you.
Drill #3: Bruce Protocol
When I was 19 years old, I was diagnosed with a moderate to severe leak in the aortic valve of my heart. To date, everything is stable, and aside from a yearly checkup, I don't really think about it. However, at my most recent checkup I had the dubious pleasure of undergoing a cardiac stress test called the Bruce Protocol.
You start out on a treadmill at a slow speed and a low incline, and the test gets increasingly harder. What I loved about this test was not only that it got progressively more intense, but there were targets to shoot for, and I always found myself aiming for the next level.
After my heart stopped pounding out of my chest, I realized that having the numbers to shoot for was a great system, so I just stole the whole protocol. It's like a competition. Give it a try for yourself and see how you stack up.
Begin at Stage 1 with the treadmill at 1.7 mph, and set the incline at a 10% grade. At the three-minute mark, increase the speed and incline to Stage 2, as indicated below. Continue increasing the stages every 3 minutes until you can't run any longer. And don't worry about whether your treadmill can go up to a 24% grade. I've been told that only elite athletes make it past level 7.
By the way, I totally kicked the asses of all the people in the doctor's office that day. Granted, they were all 60 and experiencing some degree of congestive heart failure, but winning is winning.
Drill #4: Walk and Learn
One thing that's become increasingly apparent to me over the past few years is that any activity you put in above and beyond your normal training volume can dramatically affect your physique.
In light of this revelation, I still do my normal training volume and higher intensity energy systems work, but I try to allocate at least 30 minutes a day to walking on the treadmill. Since the intensity is so low, it doesn't interfere with training volume.
I also like to read for at least an hour every day, so I incorporate at least half of this into my treadmill time. In one workweek I get in at least 2.5 hours on the treadmill, over and above my normal exercise, and I don't get bored because I'm simultaneously accomplishing two important tasks.
Drill #5: Listen and Learn
Along the same vein, there are just some days when I'm not in the mood to read. Instead I've found that audio books are great resources to pass the time while I'm walking on the treadmill. That way I can let my mind wander to be creative and I can just rewind back to hear the parts I missed.
You can usually rent audio books from the library, but many are also available online. In fact, many fitness related downloads are free and you can put them straight on to your MP3 player. On mine I have everything from Steven Covey (if you haven't read his stuff, you should) to the biography of Celine DionÉyou know, for inspiration.
Drill #6: Weight Circuits
One day my wife and I were thinking of exciting ways to give a bunch of people a great cardiovascular workout in a small space. In the process, we created the following multi-station weight training circuit that left us flat on the floor. This ain't your mama's circuit workout.
Dumbbell bench press
Seated dumbbell curl
Overhead dumbbell triceps extension
High step / skipping
The rules are simple. Start at the top, and select a weight that will allow you to perform each exercise for approximately one minute without stopping for breaks. There's no need to count reps, and there are absolutely no rests between exercises. After one round, rest for 2 minutes, then repeat the circuit two more times.
If you don't like my choice of movements, then you're a loser, a big loser. Nah, kidding. You can easily substitute movements. The key is to work a lot of muscle groups and keep moving.
Remember that this is cardiovascular workout, so weight is not the objective. If you need to stop during the set, the weight is too heavy. Check your ego at the door, or you'll be mopping your lunch off the floor.
If you do it right, you should take no longer than 40 minutes to complete this circuit.
Drill #7: Body Weight Circuit
If you've got no equipment, and you have the sudden urge to sweat like Rocky, just perform a circuit of these three exercises.
While holding on to a bench with your hands, jump back and forth with your legs over the bench. Repeat 20 times on each side.
Place both hands on the floor in front of you. Now jump so that your one leg goes straight out behind you and the opposite knee comes up by your side. When you jump again, your legs will trade places. Repeat this 20 times on each leg.
Lie down stand ups
This is the easiest looking exercise you'll ever hate. From a standing position, lie flat down on the floor, let your chest touch, and get up as quickly as possible. Unlike burpees, there's no real form to this exercise, and there's no jump at the top. Just get all the way down, and all the way up as fast as you can. Perform 20 of these.
It's taken some "fit" people over eight minutes to complete this circuit with some of our best coming in around three. If this is too easy, try doing it twice.
My goal here isn't to convince you that cardio is fun or exciting, but to breathe a little life into a stale routine. If you're looking for something new, give some of these drills a try, and let me know how they work for you.